Back online

Harry Ritchie’s website with his two freely available usage guides is once again up and rolling. You’ll find it – and them – here. Do let us know what you think of it.

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“The language is evolving …”

I know that, but I’d still like to know what YOU think about this sentence, which I heard this summer while camping in England: “We are currently having to deal with a large volume of calls and are unable to answer you now”. It may be (un)acceptable in different contexts, so please fill in this mini-survey (one sentence only) and let me know.

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Great news from the publisher

Routledge has just let me know that Describing Prescriptivism: Usage Guides and Usage Problems in British and American English has come out in paperback. Much cheaper than the hardback!

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The Oxford comma in the news

Are you for or against the Oxford comma? No choice when publishing with OUP of course, as even Thérèse Coffey would discover. And I doubt if people would be against adding a comma where a lack of one would lead to funny sentences, as in the examples fom this piece in The Guardian last week. Personally, I would rather not use it when there is no need for it. How about you?

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Verbal hygiene at Mr Kipling’s

I love Mr Kipling’s little Bramley apple pies, advertised as “exceedingly good cakes”. So far so grammatically good, and good they are. But when buying them this summer during our holidays in England, we also spotted Mr Kipling’s exceedingly good “cherry Bakewells”, which I’d never tried before. But I had heard about them when interviewing a British colleague for my book Languages of The Hague (2019). One of the things she missed most about living in The Netherlands, she told me at the time, were Bakewell tarts. Tarts! What happened to the word? Scrapped because of its negative connotations? Verbal hygiene at work at Mr Kipling’s?

Want to read my book for the 30 other interviews with native speakers of multilingual The Hague? You can order it directly from its publisher, De Nieuwe Haagsche. It is of course “exceedingly good” as well.

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Evaluating Writing Wrongs?

This summer, walking into Foyles in London, I came across this usage guide: Writing Wrongs: Common Errors in English, by Robert M. Martin (2018, Peterborough Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press).

New for me, but already four years old, so I was wondering if any readers of this blog have any experience with this usage guide?

Google Books includes the following description of it (emphasis added by me):

“Writing Wrongs is a concise and thoughtful guide to common errors in English. It covers frequently confused and misused words along with problems of grammar, punctuation, and style, and offers a brief and up-to-date guide to major citation styles. Though it provides guidelines and recommendations for usage, Writing Wrongs acknowledges the evolution of language over time and the fact that different contexts have different rules—it is not narrowly prescriptive. A friendly, flexible, and easy-to-read reference, Writing Wrongs will be useful to students and general readers alike.”

How useful did you find it?

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Interactive TeamWork survey

On 28 October 2022, TeamWork will be organising a workshop session, called “The mysteries of brackets and old grammar chestnuts”. For more information as well as to register for this event, see the TeamWork website.

One of the workshops will be on the typical Bridging the Unbridegable topic of usage guides and usage problems, and will focus particularly on the question of whether old chestnuts like the split infinitive or the use of who for whom should still be considered (and proscribed as such) wrong. To be able to acquire some preliminary data for the workshop, readers of this blog are invited to complete a brief survey on attitudes regarding some old chestnuts in this history of usage advice. The survey is anonymous, and you will find it here. And if you’re in The Netherlands at the time of the event, do register for it so that you will be able to learn about the results!

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More usage guides

If the coincidence Robin Straaijer experienced last week was finding a usage guide ten years after he had been working on it, mine was to find a copy of a German usage guide, the German usage I’ve been told, just five days before I’m giving a paper on the comparative English – Dutch – German complaint traditions.

It is a Duden volume, called Richtiges und gutes Deutsch: Wörterbuch der sprachlichen Zweifelsfälle (6th ed., 2007), with over a thousand pages of German usage problems. The book illustrates one major difference between all three traditions: the existence of set of publications that together make up the “Standardwerk zur Deutsche Sprache”. The English or Dutch traditions don’t have such standard publications. I had of course seen it before, but now I actually own a copy of the book, found in a second-hand bookshop in Leiden. Second-hand bookshops are great places for finding usage guides, as I wrote several times on this blog. I found quite a few copies when we were collecting material for the HUGE database, in the UK but also in The Netherlands. Like Robin though, I wasn’t looking for any more, let alone any German ones. It’s great to have it all the same.

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Usage guides and the complaint tradition

If you wish to attend this presentation, on Wednesday 27 April at 2 pm (CET), here is the zoomlink:

https://uni-due.zoom.us/j/66210477258?pwd=R0ZOc1RNTXcvUkxuYUVsNXlCSWFiZz09.

We hope to see many of you there. And if students need a certificate of attendance, the organisers will will be happy to let you have one.

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Usage guides… there’s no getting away from them!

Yesterday, I found this well-worn copy of Margaret Nicholson’s A Dictionary of American-English Usage (Signet 1958) in my local street library (see photo below) just around the corner of where I live.

I realised that it has been just about exactly 10 years after I put the original 1957 edition in the HUGE-database I created for the research project Bridging the Unbridgeable, which we started in 2011.

The book’s subtitle reads “Based on Fowler’s Modern English Usage”, and if memory serves, this was taken quite literally. Although I haven’t done a systematic comparison, the changes from Henry Fowler’s Modern English Usage (Oxford University Press 1926) were – to my recollection – minimal.

However, a quick dip into the HUGE database does reveals an interesting change that was made by Nicholson.

In the entry on all right, Fowler starts out as follows:

“The words should always be written separate; there are no such forms as all-rightallright, or alright” (Fowler 1926, p.16)

Nicholson changed Fowler’s use of the flat adverb “separate” to a full adverbial form, changing the start of the entry to:

“The words should always be written separately; there are no such forms as all-right, allright, or alright” (Nicholson 1957, p.17, emphasis added)

Does this perhaps show a lower tolerance for the use of flat adverbs in American English?

Nicholson’s Dictionary of American-English Usage was possibly an attempt by Oxford University Press to replicate the commercial success of Fowler’s Modern English Usage in the US by appealing to the American market. Apparently the idea worked since this paperback was published just one year after the hardcover. As can be seen from the logo top left on the cover, it is part of a series of cheap paperbacks called “Signet 75c books” – this would put the book’s price at about $7 in today’s money.

small, single book case street library against a wall with yellow tiles
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